Arlo Who?

When I turned 30 years old, old woman that I was, I had a mind to treat myself to a fancy haircut of fancy proportions.  After all, I was surely deserving of such a fine treat, seeing as how I was a fine, upstanding member of a fine, upstanding society complete with a fine, upstanding career and a fine sort of marriage if you didn’t look too closely.

So I moseyed on over to a fancy local salon full of handsome young people wielding scissors and combs and all sorts of instruments of beautification.  These groovy youngsters washed their subjects’ fine hair in bubbles of water and they utilized various electrical appliances and chemical accouterments to shape and pull and shear and blow and inflict bouncing, burning curls onto the locks of fancy, high-paying customers such as myself.

I walked right in and settled on down into the whirly-twirly chair of a handsome young man who had as distinctive a look of familiarity as ever I had seen.  This handsome young man twirled my chair around to face his mirrored glass wall surrounded by twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures of fancy hair-do’s.  He proceeded to wield his scissors and combs and bubbles and blows until I looked like no one remotely recognizable.

And that is when I recognized him.

I said, “You look just like Arlo!”

With as blank a face as ever I had seen, he said, “Arlo who?”  He continued to snip-snip-snip at my limpy-skimpy, old-lady locks.

And I said, “Why, Arlo Guthrie, of course!  Don’t you know who that is?”

“Never heard of him.”  Thud.

Thud… snip-snip….  Thud… blooowwwww… sounded the silence as I took a nosedive down the rabbit hole known previously and remotely as the generation gap, fancy head of hair leading the way, all while twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures of fancy hair-do’s helplessly looked on.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

That was nearly 30 years ago.  It was the first time in my life that I knew what it felt like to be old.  Or, at least, older.  Or, at the very least, growing older.

I was reminded of all this the other night when I caught Tavis Smiley’s interview with a nearly 70-year old Arlo Guthrie on PBS.  Arlo looked like Santa Claus after half a century of smoking weed.  I don’t know why it comes as such a shock when I see a famous person that I haven’t seen in quite a while and discover that they have aged.  It feels personal.  How dare they succumb to the vagaries and ravages of time?  Oh, heavens-to-Betsy, has that happened to me, too?  “Yes, dear,” responds the little voice in my head, calmly primping her own imaginary hair-do.

But then I stopped obsessing, quieted down, and opened up.  I listened.  I learned.  And I enjoyed a trip to the past where I found hope for the future.  Mr. Smiley did a wonderful interview, and Arlo charmed.

Arlo recounted what it was like growing up as Woody Guthrie’s son.  Remember Woody?  In the United States of America, Woody’s musical and poetic efforts on behalf of the downtrodden and against war earned him the label of communist.  Apparently he was a sympathizer, but never a member.  In the 1940s, Woody was part of the Almanac Singers, where a long friendship and collaboration began with Pete Seeger (another American folk singer and social activist–for any too young to know–and an actual member of the Communist Party for a time, for which he paid dearly).

Arlo, born in 1947, spent his formative years absorbing the music, poetry, politics, and drama of his surroundings.  And in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, he first performed what would become probably his most noteworthy, long-lived, far-reaching, heart-stirring, laugh-inducing musical opus, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”  His father, Woody, was blessed to hear the demo copy shortly before he died.

That was 50 years ago.  Imagine that.

Arlo went on to enjoy his own long friendship with Pete Seeger.  My favorite part of Mr. Smiley’s interview was when Arlo talked about walking with Mr. Seeger, then in his early 90’s, 30 blocks through New York City to join Occupy Wall Street demonstrators at Columbus Circle on a cold October night in 2011.  There they found young people singing snippets of old protest songs, switching from one song to another before finishing any simply because they didn’t know all of the words.  Pete took out his banjo and he and Arlo led the night-time gathering in song.  Teaching words.  Sharing stories.  Crafting connections through the power and magic of song.

When you get old enough, you can be cool again.  As long as you have stayed true (or come back to your truth–it is, after all, so easy to become separated).  True to yourself, your beliefs, your ideals.  True about your past and humble in the face of your future.  And, most importantly, honest with those who come after.  After all, it is a very particular gift to have traveled your road far enough, long enough, and awake enough that you gather even a glimpse of the bigger picture.  You might as well be honest once you get there.

Thank you, Arlo.  And thank you to all who have gone before.  Thank you for your ageless voice and timeless message, your poetry, your song, and your humor.

Oh, and by the way, you’ve still got great hair.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

You can find Mr. Smiley’s April 14, 2017 interview with Arlo Guthrie through the following link:

www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/interviews/legendary-singer-songwriter-arlo-guthrie/.

And, for a youtube recording, complete with lyrics, of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” here is a link for you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPx2t7xoF1k.

Please, enjoy!

Living Backwards

A friend recently gave me a book to read called One Thousand White Women, by Jim Fergus.  It chronicles a year in the life of a woman, May Dodd, who heads West and marries a chief of the Cheyenne indian tribe.  I read the back cover describing the story outline.  I read the Author’s Note, the Introduction, and the Prologue.  Then I went to the last chapter and commenced reading the book backwards forward.  For the signs were all there, the smoke signals perfectly clear in a bright blue sky:  this was not the type of story to have a happy ending.  In which case, I wanted to be fully briefed on the details before investing myself too deeply in our heroine’s tale.

This isn’t new behavior for me, nor I doubt is it particularly unique.  I had to do the same thing with Stephen King’s The Shining (who didn’t???).  I was so terrified of a horrible death for the heroine and her son that I simply had to make sure they were still alive at the end before becoming overly attached to their characters.  In the scariest chapters, I had to read paragraph by paragraph from chapter’s end to its start.

On this morning’s dog walk, it struck me that the older I get, the more this backwards-forward behavior has crept into my everyday world, not just my reading habits.

“Oh, what a shame,” you may say.  “You are missing out on all the mystery, the surprise.”

Not at all, I respond.  I am simply and succinctly aware of the end-game (certain, unambiguous death) and am appreciating each breath while on the way, doing my best to avoid sharp corners, blind curves, slippery slopes, and precipitous falls.  That doesn’t change the fact that there are still plenty of blind curves and sharp corners–and perhaps a few scary doors–that are going to snag me here and there.

I suspect most people, as they age, recognize this increased awareness and caution in themselves.  Anyone who has closely witnessed the decline and death of a parent, a grandparent, any loved one–especially those who have experienced this repeatedly–can’t help but internalize the inevitability of their own end.  And can’t help but take precautionary actions and a measure of control.  Adjusting our hearts, our sights, our behavior accordingly.  Kind of like reading those later chapters first.  (They opened the door!  No, silly, don’t open that door!  Wow, what a pretty door….)

There’s a tremendous bright side to all of this.

“Oh, but of course,” you may chide me.  “There goes Miss Pollyanna in her rose colored glasses enjoying the view on the way to her splat even as she flies off the edge of that one precipice she failed to avoid.”

Yes, well.  As I was saying, there is a certain peace that comes with acceptance and with knowledge.  Peace that accompanies us when we are lucky enough to wander off somewhere beyond knowledge, to a place called wisdom.

So, yes, I know before reading her story that May Dodd (SPOILER ALERT!!) does, indeed, die a horrible death.  But it doesn’t change that I can still enjoy her story, appreciate her perspective, learn from her lessons.  I still get surprises and mystery, I just get them in reverse.  It kind of takes the edge off.

As for me, I’m well aware of my end.  Maybe not the specifics, and hopefully not too horrible.  But there will be an end, as surely as there was a beginning.  What great motivation to take the reins, as best I can, and write my own happily-ever-after.  In the before.

And Remember, Love is Not . . .

Ha!  Told ya I was heading off to work on a book and maybe check in once in a while and what do I do???  Post the very next day.  Oh well.  Apparently my attention span leaves something to be desired.

So today we arrived at a beautiful little state park in North Texas.  We stayed here last July when we were new-to-the-road and that is when we met a lovely couple that invited us to visit them at their ranch some day. We will arrive there tomorrow, and Dawny will get an eyeful of cows!

But back to the subject at hand.  For our evening walk, Dawny and I were strolling along the lakefront and we saw a cluster of people at the end of the fishing pier.  A man in a white shirt was at the head of the group, a sweet young couple–she in a tiny white halter minidress and he in a royal blue shirt and fancy jeans–held hands and smiled at each other.  About a dozen people, including a tiny baby and a sweet little flower girl, were there to witness.  A wedding, oh my!

We slowed our pace so that I could soak up the love in the atmosphere and Dawny could sniff out picnic crumbs.  All I could hear before we were out of earshot was, “And remember, love is not…”

Not what???

I can think of SO many things that it is… patient, kind, truthful… First Corinthians 13:4-7 is classic.  But I couldn’t think of specific nots.  This really bothered me.  I’ve been married twice.  You’d think I would have a list two arms long embracing what love is not.  At certain points in time, I was a fair expert on it.  But alas, I seem to have forgotten.

Dawny and I watched the ceremony wrap up.  The bride and groom kissed.  Pictures were taken.  Lots more kisses were planted all around.  Good people watched out for the flower girl when she wandered off too close to the water.  And I sat on a nearby bench waiting to see if I would have a chance to get an answer to this burning question, what is love not?

And good fortune smiled.  The wedding officiant and his wife said their goodbyes and walked up the path to their car.  Dawny and I intercepted them and I did my best to not act or sound sort of crazy.  Luckily, they were very open and kind.

“What is love not?,” I asked.

“It is not an emotion, it is a commitment,” he explained.  “If it was an emotion, we’d all get divorced the first time the toilet seat was left up.”

Well now, that does make sense.  It’s probably not original.  It’s one of those things that people know… really know… at certain points of their lives.  And just as often forget.  Unless they are lucky enough to find someone who will help them remember, when times are at their lowest.

I hope this young couple can grow in that kind of a love.  I was very touched by their simple little wedding.  Sunset on the water.  Surrounded by the dearest of family and friends (the officiant was the bride’s uncle).  Nothing fancy.  Just a commitment made.  To love and honor each other all the days of their lives.

L’chayim!